Published on March 12th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor


A Breakthrough In Energy Storage: Graphene Micro Supercapacitors

March 12th, 2013 by  

Micro-supercapacitor-cBy Nicole Miller

Imagine plugging in your smartphone for thirty seconds and then continuing the rest of your day with a fully charged phone. Then imagine plugging in your electric vehicle for less time than it takes to fill up a standard gas tank before running a day’s worth of errands on that one charge. Today, researchers at UCLA may have used some everyday, easily available technology and graphene — a strong, flexible and highly conductible carbon product — to make this dream of energy storage a reality.

The magic is in the idea of a supercapacitor. Typical batteries store a lot of energy, but it takes a long time for that energy to collect. Capacitors charge quickly, but they don’t hold the charge very long. Supercapacitors take the best of both these technologies to create a device that charges quickly and will hold a large amount of energy for a long time. Micro supercapacitors bring this technology down to a scale appropriate for cell phones and laptops.

Micro supercapacitors are not a new idea. The belief is that these devices, which can charge very quickly and which have the potential for hundreds of times more energy storage than typical batteries, might one day have the capacity to power much of what now runs on less adequate batteries.

The major problem has been that the process for creating these micro structures was not cost-efficient, and therefore limited the appeal to investors.

recent breakthrough by UCLA professor Richard Kaner and grad student Maher El-Kady to use a laser optical drive (usually used to label DVDs) and graphene — readily made from available material — to mass produce these micro supercapacitors (a research project CleanTechnica reported on back in March 2012). The researchers published their findings in the February 2013 issue of Nature Communications.

Kaner and El-Kady see the benefit for the micro supercapacitors in permanent structures such as biomedical implants, but some of the most exciting applications lay in the renewable energy sector.

Renewable energy production methods such as wind and solar are great options for reducing the need for energy derived from fossil fuels. The intermittent nature of these methods, however, could pose a problem down the line for the proliferation of these energy technologies. Having a battery to store the energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels will provide a constant stream of energy whether or not the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.

Professor Kaner is now in the process of seeking funding for mass production of the graphene micro supercapacitors. If realized, this could be the first step to a revolution in the marriage of renewable energy methods and energy capture. It will be very interesting to see how this nascent technology is implemented. What is best for the consumer isn’t always what’s best for the energy company. Having a way to cheaply store and deliberately release energy produced using sustainable methods signals a radical and long-awaited boost to this sector. If the production were applied to renewable energy storage, we would then see a corollary increase in solar, wind, and thermal home and commercial manufacture and installation. This increase has related tributaries of growth potential in solar and wind job training, manufacturing, shipping, installation, and maintenance industries. Whatever direction the development of Kaner and his team’s micro supercapacitors, if it works on a large scale we can look forward to major changes with long-reaching repercussions.

Here’s a video on the project:

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  • Ricky

    How did you get rid of the oxygen and water that the graphite oxide was dissolved in? My bluray player doesn’t do that :p

  • AndyinHawick

    One of the major differences between batteries and capacitors that I have not seen mentioned in any of the discussions so far is that batteries output essentially the same voltage from near full charge to near depletion. The voltage across a capacitor is essentially proportional to the charge it is holding. A battery might drop 10 to 20 percent of its voltage from 90% charged to 20% charged depending on technology and discharge rate. A capacitor would drop almost 80% of its voltage over the same charge range. The maximum charge on a capacitor is governed by the breakdown voltage of the electrolyte.

    This difference in output voltage can be compensated for with suitable circuitry and it also means that it is easier to measure the state of charge but it will add complexity to any equipment that uses such.

    When comparing energy densities, what measure is being used for capacitors? total energy stored or useable energy (down to a realistic minimum voltage)?

  • Guest

    This needs to be implemented into technology very soon

  • arne-nl

    “might one day have the capacity to power much of what now runs on more cumbersome and toxic batteries.”

    I had really really hoped that CleanTechnica of all sites would not contribute to this FUD.

    Most modern batteries are not toxic. Most notably lithium ion batteries are allowed by EPA regulation to be thrown out with the household garbage. (although it is of course a better idea to recycle them, but that is something else).

    This ‘argument’ is very often used by the naysayers to discredit electric vehicles. They handily abuse the older rechargeable battery chemistries like nickel cadmium or lead acid to argue that EV’s are dangerous chemical devices. Nothing can be further from the truth. The oil and gasoline in an ICE poses a far greater threat to the environment when it leaks than the battery of an electric vehilce.

    • Thanks. Will try to watch out for such language/phrases.

      • nhsolarguy

        Don’t bother, you were right. The majority of batteries out there are lead-acid, especially in the energy storage area, because of cost. Definitely toxic, but fortunately, we’re pretty good at recycling them. And who wants lithium in their environment? Not super-toxic, but still can be toxic at high enough doses. Not to mention that lithium batteries are unstable, and prone to fires. And cadmium is extremely toxic.

  • Guest

    If this takes off it would be brilliant.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Wow…so cool to see them form this on a cd/dvd surface……we so need this tech…

  • JustSaying

    I thought the idea here was that the this UC has a much higher energy denisty than “normal” UCs. Similar to todays batteries. So you replace the batteries, with a UC that holds as much energy but can be chanrged 100 to 1000 times faster.

  • beernotwar

    There should be a rating system for these emerging technologies. Like a 1-10 value for potential impact coupled with a 1-10 value for temporal proximity to being implemented in reality. So fusion reactors would be something like a 10 for impact and a 1 for readiness to make that impact. Or maybe they’re to level 2 or 3 by now.
    On this scale, where would graphene micro super capacitors sit? The impact looks pretty big…like a 7. How soon can we expect them to come to fruition? Sounds like they’re making rapid progress so maybe a 4?

    • science guru

      Great idea! I second that notion.

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  • What would be the charge ratio compared to existing batteries? Would solar power generated into a graphene battery store morepower than a conventional battery in the same amount of charge time?

    • Matthew Bishop

      Your intuition is correct. Strictly speaking, these devices would not be “batteries.” Ultracapacitors, or supercapacitors (same thing), have the ability to charge and discharge extremely rapidly (think one minute or less). The cool thing about graphene supercapacitors is that they combine this rapid charge/discharge property of supercapacitors with the high energy density of conventional batteries, which are limited by their slow charge/discharge rates.

      • slean guy

        You still did not answer his question; the answer is no it will not allow the storage of more power it will just allow quicker delivery of that power to the battery itself

        • Matthew Bishop

          Not sure what you mean – are you talking about a battery that uses electrochemical cells? How would a supercapacitor speed the charge/discharge there? I can see using a supercapacitor in parallel connection with a battery to improve power density, but my understanding is that supercapacitors are not a bolt-on improvement for charging/discharging current batteries, but a replacement.

          • slean guy

            Like I said it would not increase the power density of the battery itself. This article is about the charge side of the equation and not discharge even though it has yet to be shown ultra capacitors or supercapacitors can hold and release charges for an extended period of time(energy density). Anyway, a battery can take a charge as quickly as it can be engineered but is currently limited from doing so by anode materials. what is the sense in pairing both. there is current research using graphene anode materials that will allow for multiple electrons for each one that will accomplish the same thing. right now the supercapacitor does have a greater power density for the same amount of charge time depending on the type of battery chemical

    • Roger

      1) 100 to 1000

      2) Yes.

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